On a sunny day recently, a group of 20 hiking enthusiasts were busy covering damaged trails with rocks, turf and soil on the top of Tai Mo Shan.
They were participants in a trail maintenance workshop organised by the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department to repair a part of the MacLehose Trail.
With more people heading to the countryside for relaxation, increasing wear and tear on hiking trails can pose a danger for hikers.
Recruited through environmental groups like Oxfam and Green Earth, the workshop’s participants helped refurbish the trails to conserve the environment.
Volunteer Miss Cheung said revamping the trails was a good experience.
"I love hiking. Although the job is quite hard for me, I want to make the trails clean and tidy. We need to protect our environment."
In the workshop, department officers taught the volunteers how to use digging tools and introduced safety measures like the proper way to lift heavy rocks to avoid injury.
One of their main tasks was to block off breakaway tracks so hikers stick to the main route.
The department’s Country Parks Officer Tony Hung said the Tai Mo Shan trails have branched out into many small paths, which pose a threat to the environment.
"Wide-eyed hikers often veer off the main hiking trail, creating new paths. Eroded by rain, the small paths’ condition keeps worsening. We want to maintain a comfortable and sustainable trail so hikers will not use the small paths."
Divided into small groups, the volunteers identified the main route among the many by-paths first.
They then used mostly natural materials found nearby, like stones and soil, to block off the makeshift paths to secure the main trail.
"We always use natural materials for repairs. Tai Mo Shan has lots of stones so we use stones for trail preservation," Mr Hung said.
The department invites foreign experts to share hiking trail management skills in the workshops.
Singaporean trail expert Lim Hui Min said sloping trails are preferable to terraced ones in his country.
"People usually don’t want to walk up stairs when hiking. We prefer flat trails with a gradient in Singapore."
He said the workshop has been a success.
"I hope there will be more opportunities for people to join such workshops in future so more manpower can be mobilised to help conserve the environment."
The department launched the trail maintenance workshop in November to encourage the public, especially hikers, to conserve the environment and use hiking trails in a sustainable way.
Five of the workshops have been held so far, attracting about 100 volunteers to fix the MacLehose Trail.
Besides trail maintenance skills, participants are also taught proper hiking behaviour and environmental issues like the cause and impact of soil erosion on hiking trails.
Mr Hung said the hands-on experience helps participants understand the importance of trail maintenance.
"What’s important is not the number of trails the volunteers paved, but the fact that they could experience the entire repair process to learn more about trail maintenance and proper hiking behaviour."
The department plans to launch another workshop in the autumn.
There are about 80 hiking trails in local country parks and special areas under the management of the department.
They include long trails, family walks, nature trails and country trails, with a total length of about 500km.
Depending on their interest, ability and hiking experience, visitors can choose a suitable trail to enjoy the pleasure of hiking.